Flamebait is an intentionally inflammatory communication over the Internet designed to spark an aggressive response from readers. Bulletin boards and comments sections are two common locations for flamebait, although people may also use email. The goal is usually to anger people and start an argument known as a “flame war,” where people exchange insults in a state of escalating anger.
True flamebait, a form of trolling or Internet trolling, is posted specifically with the goal of getting people to argue, usually for the purpose of entertaining the person who posted it along with other members of the community. This differs from a communication that is unintentionally provocative, or a comment designed to spark discussion, but not necessarily outrage. Flamebait can also include images; someone might include a crude or offensive picture along with the message, for example.
Good flamebait is written in a way that does not tip other users off to the fact that it is designed to make them angry. It is specifically tailored to the community, relying on key phrases and concepts familiar to regulars. Topics and concepts regularly discussed are usually brought up and the message may manipulate a sore point in the community, like a previous argument about something that did not turn out well. People who are active members of a community may contribute flamebait, or someone from the outside may study the community before crafting a message with the intention of generating a controversy.
Flame wars can become prolonged, very aggressive, and sometimes dangerous for participants. People may start with inflammatory rhetoric but can continue to denial of service attacks, threats, and sometimes activities intended to put people in physical danger, like publishing home addresses or employment information. Many communities have moderators who step in if a flame war appears to be progressing to this point, with the goal of keeping participants physically safe.
If community members suspect something is being contributed to the conversation with the goal of creating a flame war, they may call it out as flamebait and challenge the original poster. Sometimes, this ultimately ends in the effect of having a flame war anyway, as people argue about the content of the message and the intent of the person who posted it. People with a repeat history of publishing inflammatory comment intended to provoke users may have posting privileges temporarily suspended, or can be permanently banned. Usually this decision is made in consultation with several moderators.